The truth about being an artist


I have been having trouble with frogs. Not actual frogs, which I kind of like, in their funny, damp way, but with trying to capture them on paper. To get the image I wanted for the piece shown here, in a long, frustrating process lasting two days, I painted a frog on a lily pad twenty-three times.

Still, each of my paintings fell short in some way. In many there was a problem with the neck, as my 12-year-old, an avid frog-catcher, helpfully pointed out. Others were out of proportion—froggy arms too long for the body, or feet too small. And in a couple, the ink ran in the all-important eyes, ruining the whole piece.

I wasn’t going for anatomical precision—that’s why God invented cameras—but I was still looking for that elusive “aha!” that tells me I’m done.

Exhausted by frogs, I put them away for a couple of weeks, letting the images percolate in my brain. And when I finally got up the gumption to tackle the piece again, I allowed myself to sketch it in pencil first, contrary to traditional Japanese technique.

Aha! Got it.

From the outside, being an artist may seem like a dream job. To have a career that is all about expressing your creativity, to enjoy the freedom of pursuing your passion however you choose, to share your talent with the admiring public, to leave your mark on the world in the most personal of ways . . .

A few of my failed frogs

A few of my failed frogs

There is truth to all of that, and I do appreciate the opportunity I have to walk this path. But the dirty little secret about being an artist is that it is also hard. Really hard.

First there is the overwhelming problem of trying to make a living as an artist, which deserves a whole separate discussion. Then there is the fact that—as rewarding as it is to create a successful painting—on any given morning, it is far easier to check email, Facebook, and Twitter, do laundry, or even (shudder) clean the bathroom, than sit down in the studio and paint.

It takes focused concentration and a mind uncluttered by the demands of a to-do list or a tight schedule. That's a tall order right there.

More fundamentally, although my creative vision is usually clear, my technical skills lag behind. In that gap lies self-doubt and frustration—not to mention a whole lot of wasted ink and paper. I’ve been involved with art and graphic design since childhood, yet some part of me still questions whether I can really call myself an artist. If so, would it really take me twenty-three tries to paint a simple frog? And must the whole process involve so much hair pulling?

And yet . . . I know that it's only by reaching beyond our comfort levels and throwing ourselves into the difficult and unknown that we leave open the possibility of grace. In the case of this particular painting, grace takes the form of a meditating frog, distracted by its many wandering thoughts, peeking an eye open.

Is this goofy painting to be part of my legacy to humanity? Well, so be it. Ribbit.

“in meditation” is 5" x 7", painted with sumi ink and gansai paint (Japanese watercolors) on paper. It is also available as a print or greeting card.

Makino Studios News

North Country Fair: Humboldt folks, please stop by and say hello at my booth at the 40th annual North Country Fair in Arcata, California this coming weekend, September 21-22, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. The Makino Studios booth will be near the Hot Knots corner on G Street.

Seabeck Haiku Gathering: I will be presenting examples of my haiga (art with haiku) at this fun haiku retreat taking place in Seabeck, Washington October 10-13.

Hello, Oregon: As of this month, the independent bookstore Soundpeace in Ashland is the first retailer in Oregon to carry a selection of my cards.